Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear.

Romans 8:15

What can we do but pray for the throngs of defiant men and women who believe that their humanistic view of life is all sufficient? They believe that they are responsible “captains” of their own souls.

The sad fact is that even while they are joining in the age-old rejection of Jesus Christ—“We will not have this Man to rule over us”—they still are beset with fears within.

The present competitive world and its selfish society have brought many new fears to the human race. I can sympathize with those troubled beings who lie awake at night worrying about the possible destruction of the race through some evil, misguided use of the world’s store of nuclear weapons. The tragedy is that they have lost all sense of the sovereignty and omnipotence and faithfulness of the living God.

Although the material world has never understood it, our faith is well placed in the Scriptures! Those who take God’s Word seriously are convinced of an actual heavenly realm as real as this world we inhabit!


Dear Lord, thank You that You are a strong tower where we can find shelter and protection. I choose to put my trust in You.[1]

We Are Given Access to God by the Spirit

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” (8:15)

A second way in which the Holy Spirit confirms our adoption as God’s children is by freeing us from the spirit of slavery that inevitably leads us to fear again. Because God’s “children share in flesh and blood,” we are told by the writer of Hebrews, “He Himself [Christ] likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Heb. 2:14–15).

No matter how cleverly they may manage to mask or deny the reality of it, sinful men are continually subject to fear because they continually live in sin and are therefore continually under God’s judgment. Slavery to sin brings slavery to fear, and one of the gracious works of the Holy Spirit is to deliver God’s children from both.

John Donne, the seventeenth-century English poet who later became pastor and dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, wrote in “A Hymn to God the Father” the following touching lines:

Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,

Which was my sin, though it were done before?

Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,

And do run still, though still I do deplore?

When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;

For I have more. …

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun

My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;

But swear by Thy self that at my death Thy Son

Shall shine as he shines now and heretofore:

And, having done that, Thou hast done,

I fear no more.

Paul reminded Timothy that our heavenly Father “has not given us a spirit of timidity [or, fear], but of power and love and discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7). John assures us that “there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:18).

At this point in Romans, Paul is not so much emphasizing the transaction of adoption as the believer’s assurance of it. Through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, we not only are truly and permanently adopted as children of God but are given a spirit of adoption. That is, God makes certain His children know they are His children. Because of His Spirit dwelling in our hearts, our spirit recognizes that we are always privileged to come before God as our beloved Father.

The term adoption is filled with the ideas of love, grace, compassion, and intimate relationship. It is the action by which a husband and wife decide to take a boy or girl who is not their physical offspring into their family as their own child. When that action is taken by the proper legal means, the adopted child attains all the rights and privileges of a member of the family.

The first adoption recorded in Scripture was that of Moses. When Pharaoh ordered all the male Hebrew children slain, Moses’ mother placed him in a waterproof basket and set him in the Nile River among some reeds. When Pharaoh’s daughter came to the river with her maids to bathe, she saw the basket and had one of her maids retrieve it. She immediately realized the infant was Hebrew but took pity on him. Moses’ sister, Miriam, had been watching nearby and she offered to find a nursemaid for the child, as her mother had instructed. With the approval of Pharaoh’s daughter, Miriam brought her own mother, who was then paid to take Moses home and nurse him. When Moses was a young boy, he was brought to the palace and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter (see Ex. 2:1–10).

Because Esther’s parents had died, she was adopted by an older cousin named Mordecai, who loved her as a father and took special care to look after her welfare (see Esther 2:5–11).

Perhaps the most touching adoption mentioned in the Old Testament was that of Mephibosheth, the crippled son of Jonathan and the sole remaining descendent of Saul. When King David learned about Mephibosheth, he gave him all the land that had belonged to his grandfather Saul and honored this son of his dearest friend, Jonathan, by having him dine regularly at the king’s table in the palace at Jerusalem (see 2 Sam. 9:1–13).

Pharaoh’s daughter adopted Moses out of pity and sympathy. And although Mordecai dearly loved Esther, his adoption of her was also prompted by family duty. But David’s adoption of Mephibosheth was motivated purely by gracious love. In many ways, David’s adoption of Mephibosheth pictures God’s adoption of believers. David took the initiative in seeking out Mephibosheth and bringing him to the palace. And although Mephibosheth was the son of David’s closest friend, he was also the grandson and sole heir of Saul, who had sought repeatedly to kill David. Being crippled in both feet, Mephibosheth was helpless to render David any significant service; he could only accept his sovereign’s bounty. The very name Mephibosheth means “a shameful thing,” and he had lived for a number of years in Lo-debar, which means “the barren land” (lit., “no pasture”). David brought this outcast to dine at his table as his own son and graciously granted him a magnificent inheritance to which he was no longer legally entitled.

That is a beautiful picture of the spiritual adoption whereby God graciously and lovingly seeks out unworthy men and women on His own initiative and makes them His children, solely on the basis of their trust in His true Son, Jesus Christ. Because of their adoption, believers will share the full inheritance of the Son. To all Christians God declares, “ ‘I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ says the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:17–18). Paul gives us the unspeakably marvelous assurance that God has “predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will” (Eph. 1:5).

For some people today, the concept of adoption carries the idea of second-class status in the family. In the Roman culture of Paul’s day, however, an adopted child, especially an adopted son, sometimes had greater prestige and privilege than the natural children. According to Roman law, a father’s rule over his children was absolute. If he was disappointed in his natural sons’ skill, character, or any other attribute, he would search diligently for a boy available for adoption who demonstrated the qualities he desired. If the boy proved himself worthy the father would take the necessary legal steps for adoption. At the death of the father, a favored adopted son would sometimes inherit the father’s title, the major part of the estate, and would be the primary progenitor of the family name. Because of its obvious great importance, the process of Roman adoption involved several carefully prescribed legal procedures. The first step totally severed the boy’s legal and social relationship to his natural family, and the second step placed him permanently into his new family. In addition to that, all of his previous debts and other obligations were eradicated, as if they had never existed. For the transaction to become legally binding, it also required the presence of seven reputable witnesses, who could testify, if necessary, to any challenge of the adoption after the father’s death.

Paul doubtless was well aware of that custom, and may have had it in mind as he penned this section of Romans. He assures believers of the wondrous truth that they are indeed God’s adopted children, and that because of that immeasurably gracious relationship they have the full right and privilege to cry out, “Abba!” to God as their heavenly Father, just as every child does to his earthly father. The fact that believers have the compelling desire to cry out in intimate petition and praise to their loving Father, along with their longing for fellowship and communion with God, is evidence of the indwell-ing Holy Spirit, which indwell-ing proves one’s salvation and gives assurance of eternal life.

Abba is an informal Aramaic term for Father, connoting intimacy, tenderness, dependence, and complete lack of fear or anxiety. Modern English equivalents would be Daddy, or Papa. When Jesus was agonizing in the Garden of Gethsemane as He was about to take upon Himself the sins of the world, He used that name of endearment, praying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for Thee; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt” (Mark 14:36).

When we are saved, our old sinful life is completely canceled in God’s eyes, and we have no more reason to fear sin or death, because Christ has conquered those two great enemies on our behalf. In Him we are given a new divine nature and become a true child, with all the attendant blessings, privileges, and inheritance. And until we see our Lord face-to-face, His own Holy Spirit will be a ceaseless witness to the authenticity of our adoption into the family of God.

The idea of Christians being God’s adopted children was clearly understood by Paul’s contemporaries to signify great honor and privilege. In his letter to Ephesus, the apostle exults, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will” (Eph. 1:3–5). Countless ages ago, before He created the first human being in His divine image, God sovereignly chose every believer to be His beloved and eternal child!

It should be kept in mind that, marvelous as it is, the term adoption does not fully illustrate God’s work of salvation. The believer is also cleansed from sin, saved from its penalty of death, spiritually reborn, justified, sanctified, and ultimately glorified. But those who are saved by their faith in Jesus Christ by the work of His grace have no higher title than that of adopted child of God. That name designates their qualification to share full inheritance with Christ. It is therefore far from incidental that Paul both introduces and closes this chapter with assurances to believers that they are no longer, and never again can be, under God’s condemnation (see 8:1, 38–39).[2]

15 It is difficult to know whether the word “spirit” should be capitalized in v. 15. The NASB uses the lower case “spirit” in both occurrences of the word. It would be equally possible to capitalize the word in both instances. On the other hand, Paul may well be playing on the word, so that we could take the first as “spirit”—“spirit that makes you a slave”—and the second as “Spirit”—“the Spirit of sonship” (so NIV). The new title given to the Spirit, “the Spirit of sonship,” emphasizes the vast gulf between slavery and family relationship. It is by the Spirit that believers can cry, “Abba, Father.” The two terms are equivalent, the first being the Aramaic word Jesus used in prayer (Mk 14:36). Paul’s use of the Aramaic alongside the Greek both here and in the closely related Galatians 4:6 may well indicate that the tradition concerning the prayer life of Jesus filtered down through the church even before Mark wrote his gospel. J. Jeremias (The Central Message of the New Testament [New York: Scribner’s, 1965], 28) notes that in permitting the Twelve to use the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus “authorizes his disciples to follow him in saying Abba. He gives them this address as the token of their discipleship.” The “cry” refers to calling on God in prayer.

The important term huiothesia (GK 5625; NASB, “adoption”; NIV, “sonship”) bears a relationship to justification in that it is declarative and forensic (inasmuch as it is a legal term). Adoption bestows an objective standing, as justification does; like justification, it is a pronouncement that is not repeated. It has permanent validity. Like justification, adoption rests on the loving purpose and grace of God (Eph 1:5). Though the term is used of Israel in relation to God (Ro 9:4; cf. Hos 11:1), it is doubtful that adoption was practiced in the OT period. Much more likely is the conclusion that Paul was drawing on the background of Roman law both here and in Galatians 4:5. The readers of both epistles would be familiar with adoption in their own society (for a thorough discussion, see J. M. Scott, Adoption as Sons of God [WUNT 2.48; Tübingen: Mohr, 1992]). Paul’s readers are called “sons” (v. 14) and “children” (v. 16) without any appreciable distinction. Both are family terms used interchangeably by Paul.[3]

[1] Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (pp. 434–438). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Harrison, E. F., & Hagner, D. A. (2008). Romans. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 136). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


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